This is a guest post by Stefanie who is a New York City based actress and freelance writer. She chronicles her struggle to “live the dream” on a starving artists’ budget at thebrokeandbeautifullife.com. If you would like your personal finance story or article to be feature on Vosa let me know here.
There is a surprisingly fine line between savvy shopping and stealing.
Some may disagree claiming the difference is black and white, but I’ve encountered enough shades of grey in my personal experience to question even my own sense of what is right and wrong when it comes to saving money.
Companies distribute coupons to be used; so claiming an advertised discount has never been a qualm for me. Even extreme couponers who find ways to combine coupons for deep discounts don’t bother me. Companies should be held accountable for their policies, including oversights and loopholes.
Along the same lines as couponing, rebates are an incentive offered to the consumer, and as such, I have no problem claiming mine. I start to encounter my first shades of moral grey when the rebate offered by the manufacturer is more than the price at the vendor, making the item not only free, but essentially creating a profit for the customer. I know that’s not my fault and my concern isn’t in hurting the manufacturer, but rather the local franchisee or business owner.
I like having the freedom to return an item, but returning it for full cash value after claiming a rebate seems like flat out stealing to me. The other morally questionable case in returns is using the product before returning. Sometimes use of the product is necessary to determine a flaw or malfunction, but not always.
I’ve admittedly worn some outfits with the tags on just to see if I really like them in the “real world” outside the dressing room. While I’ve felt somewhat conflicted about this “trial” policy in the past, I haven’t gone so far as to use an item multiple times for an extended period of time, then try to return it.
REI, the recreational equipment store, used to have a no time limit, no questions asked return policy, which resulted in overused merchandise (like a stroller that had been outgrown) being returned for a full refund or store credit. Needless to say, it has since been amended.
Free Trials and Memberships
I often take advantage of free trials and memberships on everything from gyms to credit monitoring services, knowing full well I will not be continuing the subscription or service. While this promotional tactic has yet to work on me, I don’t feel bad about it because I know how many people do wind up signing on- sometimes because they enjoy the service and sometimes out of shear forgetfulness.
In addition to free trials, major discounts and incentives are often offered to first time users of a service or product. For instance, most of the online food delivery sites offer $7 off your first order. I’ve admittedly, created several accounts with different email addresses to continue claiming that initial order offer.
I also see this a lot with “credit card churning”, which I’m just starting to get into. People sign up for the card, claim the huge sign up bonus, then cancel the card before getting slammed with the annual fee. Stealing or smart? Sounds smart to me, but I can understand how some might see the shades of grey.
Have you ever used or encountered any savings tactics that could be considered unethical?
Afterword From Brent
I completely agree that using rebates and returns to profit is definitely crossing the line.
As for things like free trials and initial offers, the companies know that there will be a certain percentage of people that will just use the free trial period and then cancel their service. They are working as hard as they can to convert as many free trial subscribers into paying customers.
This has been a classic business model for centuries and you, as a consumer, should use free trials and initial bonus offers to your advantage.
Take credit card churning for example. The airlines are NOT oblivious to people signing up, claiming their bonus and then cancelling the card. They still make money on each transaction you make while you are meeting your minimum spend requirement to earn your miles and there will be a certain number of people who will keep the card after they have received their bonus.
I have been travel hacking for years and have built up a massive treasure trove of miles that I can use to book flights and travel for next to nothing.
How You Can Earn Big Bonus Miles For Credit Card Churning
If you have been thinking about starting to churn credit cards, or even just sign up for a credit card that you plan to keep, so you can earn a big point bonus I recommend applying for one, or all, of the following credit cards: